Could the UK consumer’s passion for Internet shopping be heralding in a new era in parts deliveries for field service engineers? Sharon Clancy reports...
UK consumers are renowned as some of - possibly even the - world’s most enthusiastic on-line shoppers. In the process, they have driven up delivery and service standards, raising expectations of what they consider acceptable service from the companies they deal with to new levels.
They expect to order up to 10 p.m. in the evening and receive delivery the next day – some don’t even object to paying for an early delivery.
What they will object to (and quite possibly take their business elsewhere) is if you can’t offer them a one-hour delivery window or a choice of delivery options.
Faced with the complications and costs of providing doorstep-deliveries that come even close to meeting the ever-rising expectations of hundreds of thousands of consumers, on-line retailers have developed a raft of alternative delivery solutions, including locker banks and click-and- collect points at local stores.
Locker banks for through-the-night deliveries to service engineers are not new, of course. What is new is that, thanks to this huge demand for flexible deliveries of Internet purchases, there has been a veritable explosion in the numbers of locker banks throughout the UK.
"Locker banks for through-the-night deliveries to service engineers are not new, of course. What is new is that, thanks to this huge demand for flexible deliveries of Internet purchases, there has been a veritable explosion in the numbers of locker banks throughout the UK"
On the face of it, this might seem a less secure destination for those vital parts, but in fact the delivery companies have invested huge amounts in ensuring those on-line goods end up with the right customers, so this is a less a concern than it might have been in the past.
Of course, getting this sort of collection right requires integration of order-intake and scheduling, but field service companies have plenty of expertise at that.
It also suits, too, those smaller service companies who rather than have a huge parts inventory, will source required parts from on-line parts suppliers and an on as-required basis.
So how do all these delivery solutions work?
ByBox and InPost are the best known of the European locker bank providers. ByBox actually built its business in providing an overnight pre-8 a.m. secure locker service to the field service sector using its own delivery network.
Located at easily -accessible sites such as fuel retailers, railway stations and supermarkets, locker banks are increasingly popular as a click-and-collect choice.
Consumers like them because it puts them back in charge of the delivery.
Engineers will like them for the same reason – they can collect at a convenient time to them and drop off returns (either pre- or -post the last call of the day, for example).
Behind the apparent low-tech façade of locker banks, there’s some clever real-time technology enabling a seamless collection process.
"Security is a top priority - suppliers need to have proof that the correct part was delivered to the correct box, for the correct engineer"
There are numerous methods of authorising access to an individual – pin coded access, digital signature, QR code.
Some box banks incorporate video camera images as a further security measure – for themselves and their customers.
When the locker transaction is complete, immediate notification is sent to the sender. In the event of any dispute, there’s a record of box activity.
Once goods are delivered to a locker, of course, it’s no longer available until the engineer collects the parts.
It’s a fine line between allowing the engineer maximum flexibility on when to collect the parts and freeing up the locker for future deliveries – of parts or goods to a consumer.
Goods sitting in a locker uncollected benefit no-one and create locker congestion – a particular issued over busy periods such as Christmas and one that is not going to go away as consumer demand for click-and-collect grows.
ByBox’s expertise has been developed providing secure collection points for parts deliveries to field service technicians. The company has manufactured over 57,000 lockers, installed in 20 countries.
It also licences its technology providing turnkey Click-and-Collect solutions as software-as-a-service to global partners – including UK supermarkets.
Its Thinventory solution incorporates an integrated SupplierDirect service, in which stock can be ordered from suppliers and sent directly to their engineer’s Smart Box before 8am the very next day.
Locker customisation options include self-closing doors, integration of engineer signature and image capture, and the option to provide customer support at the locker via a video link to a customer support centre.
Each locker is connected to ByBox Cloud for real-time management of activity, including door openings and configurations.
The Locker server manager connects to each locker via ByBox Cloud to provide real-time communication with each locker, managing openings and configuration.
InPost operates in 16 European countries and has a 1,000 strong UK network of electronic locker banks. The lockers have integrated closed-circuit TV cameras and barcode scanning capability.
"Consumers with smartphones can be sent a QR code as collection authorisation, and the box bank’s central console will be able to scan this from the phone’s screen and open the relevant locker door purely on this basis – potentially making the pickup extremely fast"
An API (application programming interface) integrates the click-and-collect service into retailer web sites, offering consumers a choice of the five locations nearest to their target address.
Convenient convenience stores
On-line parts distributors are also able to offer an alternative to locker-collection via local convenience stores.
Convenience store chains have enthusiastically signed up for click-and-collect, attracted by the promise of extra footfall into their shops. From the engineer point of view, they are very local and they tend to be open until late evening.
CollectPlus is one of the biggest with a network of over 5,800 local stores in the UK, including Londis, Co-operative McColls, Spar, Nisa and Costcutter.
Customers simply visit the store and sign for their parcel.
Standard parcel size is limited to 60x050050cm and maximum weight is 10kg – mainly due to potential lack of storage space at the store the customer chooses.
Pay extra, and you’re allowed bigger parcels and more weight.
To allay consumer fears about parcels going astray, CollectPlus provides online tracking and, for £1, a signature as proof-of-collection. Insurance of £50 as standard with up to £300 available.
For sellers with high volumes, CollectPlus offers the option of sending customers an email and/or text including a unique collection code.
The customers present this code and proof of ID to collect their parcel - the CollectPlus store and IT systems do the rest.